Belfast Telegraph

Video: Pro-choice campaigners take ‘abortion pills’ outside Northern Ireland court

Police moved in to seize some pills amid tense scenes at a rally in Belfast.

Eleanor Crossey Malone, from the socialist feminist group Rosa, after she took an abortion pill outside Belfast’s Crown and High Courts, where counter-demonstrations were held by both sides of the Northen Irish abortion argument. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the procedure is not legal.

Pro-choice campaigners have taken what they said were abortion pills outside courts in Northern Ireland in defiance of the region’s strict laws on terminations.

Amid tense scenes at a rally in Belfast, police moved in to seize some pills and a robot used by the activists to distribute them.

Officers also attempted to remove one woman who openly took a tablet in front of the High Court building.

They led her away from the demonstration and a vocal stand-off ensued, with fellow campaigners quickly surrounding her and demanding she was not arrested.

After several minutes, the officers, on instruction from the inspector in command of the operation, abandoned their attempt to speak to the woman.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where abortion is not legal, aside from exceptional cases.

The rally outside Belfast’s High Court and Crown Court came days after the Irish Republic voted in a referendum to overturn its near-blanket ban on abortion.

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Ruth Coppinger TD addresses the crowds (David Young/PA)

Eleanor Crossey Malone, from socialist feminist movement Rosa, was one of those who took the pill in front of television cameras.

“I have taken this in defiance of the extremely outdated, medieval, anti-choice laws that exist in Northern Ireland,” she said.

“We are not willing in the wake of the repeal referendum to be left behind any longer.

Eleanor Crossey Malone displays an abortion pill packet after taking a pill as abortion rights campaign group ROSA, Reproductive Rights Against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity distribute abortion pills from a touring bus on May 31, 2018 in Belfast. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Eleanor Crossey Malone displays an abortion pill packet after taking a pill as abortion rights campaign group ROSA, Reproductive Rights Against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity distribute abortion pills from a touring bus on May 31, 2018 in Belfast. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Eleanor Crossey Malone takes an abortion pill. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Dr Rebecca Gomperts discusses abortion pills with a PSNI inspector. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday May 31, 2018. See PA story IRISH Abortion. Photo credit should read: David Young/PA Wire
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Jim Wells speaks to the media in Lisburn. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday May 31, 2018. See PA story IRISH Abortion. Photo credit should read: David Young/PA Wire
Pro choice campaigners outside Belfast's Crown and High Courts where counter-demonstrations were held by both sides of the Northen Irish abortion argument. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the procedure is not legal. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday May 31, 2018. See PA story IRISH Abortion. Photo credit should read: David Young/PA Wire
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 31: Bernie Smyth (L) of Precious Lives holds a counter pro life protest as abortion rights campaign group ROSA, Reproductive Rights Against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity distribute abortion pills from a touring bus on May 31, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Flouting Northern Irish governmental laws which forbid the use of abortion pills the group are also protesting outside offices belonging to the main political parties in the province. Women in Northern Ireland have been prosecuted for buying abortion pills over the internet and it is illegal for a woman to have an abortion unless in special circumstances unlike the rest of the United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland voted in favour of pro-choice last week in a referendum. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 31: A robot drone delivers abortion pills as abortion rights campaign group ROSA, Reproductive Rights Against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity distribute abortion pills from a touring bus on May 31, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Flouting Northern Irish governmental laws which forbid the use of abortion pills the group are also protesting outside offices belonging to the main political parties in the province. Women in Northern Ireland have been prosecuted for buying abortion pills over the internet and it is illegal for a woman to have an abortion unless in special circumstances unlike the rest of the United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland voted in favour of pro-choice last week in a referendum. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Doctor Rebecca Gomparts (R) comforts a woman after she is is led away by a police officer for questioning after taking an abortion pill as abortion rights campaign group ROSA, Reproductive Rights Against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity distribute abortion pills from a touring bus on May 31, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Abortion protest in Belfast. Mandatory Credit - Picture by Freddie Parkinson/Press Eye © Thursday 31 May 2018
Anti-abortion camapigner Bernie Smyth at protest in Belfast. Mandatory Credit - Picture by Freddie Parkinson/Press Eye ©
Abortion protest in Belfast. Mandatory Credit - Picture by Freddie Parkinson/Press Eye © Thursday 31 May 2018
Pacemaker Press 31/5/2018 Pro Choice campaigners take a pill during a protest outside the Belfast Courts on Thursday. Abortion pills where delivered by robots to activists waiting to take them, The protest took place in answer to the ongoing abortion ban in Northern Ireland. Pic Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 31/5/2018 Pro Choice campaigners take a pill during a protest outside the Belfast Courts on Thursday. Abortion pills where delivered by robots to activists waiting to take them, The protest took place in answer to the ongoing abortion ban in Northern Ireland. Pic Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 31/5/2018 Pro Choice campaigners take a pill during a protest outside the Belfast Courts on Thursday. Abortion pills where delivered by robots to activists waiting to take them, The protest took place in answer to the ongoing abortion ban in Northern Ireland. Pic Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 31/5/2018 Pro Choice campaigners take a pill during a protest outside the Belfast Courts on Thursday. Abortion pills where delivered by robots to activists waiting to take them, The protest took place in answer to the ongoing abortion ban in Northern Ireland. Pic Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 31/5/2018 Pro Choice campaigners during a protest outside the Belfast Courts on Thursday. Abortion pills where delivered by robots to activists waiting to take them, The protest took place in answer to the ongoing abortion ban in Northern Ireland. Pic Pacemaker
Taking abortion pills distributed at Belfast pro-choice rally may lead to arrest, warn police. Pic Freddie Parkinson Presseye.
Abortion protest in Belfast. Picture by Freddie Parkinson/Press Eye ©
Abortion protest in Belfast. Mandatory Credit - Picture by Freddie Parkinson/Press Eye ©
Abortion protest in Belfast. Mandatory Credit - Picture by Freddie Parkinson/Press Eye ©.
Abortion protest in Belfast. Mandatory Credit - Picture by Freddie Parkinson/Press Eye ©.
Abortion protest in Belfast. Mandatory Credit - Picture by Freddie Parkinson/Press Eye ©
Abortion protest in Belfast. Pic Freddie Robinson Presseye
Jim Wells, DUP. Mandatory Credit - Picture by Freddie Parkinson/Press Eye ©

“Northern Ireland after repeal will be one of only two jurisdictions remaining in Europe to criminalise women effectively for having abortions.

“We are not willing to accept it anymore.”

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Campaigners intervene after police try to lead away one of women who took a pill (David Young/PA)

Taking an abortion pill is illegal in Northern Ireland if the intent is to cause a miscarriage.

The women who took the pills said they did not wish to disclose whether they were pregnant.

Earlier, pro-choice campaigners addressed the crowd, among them Irish parliamentarian Ruth Coppinger TD.

Ms Coppinger said it was an “outrage” that the 1967 Abortion Act that applies elsewhere in the UK had not been extended to Northern Ireland.

“There is no way that Northern Ireland is going to get left behind,” she said.

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Pro choice campaigners outside High Court in Belfast (David Young/PA)

Prominent anti-abortion activist Bernie Smyth, who led the counter demonstration, described the incident as a “publicity stunt”.

“We are very concerned about what is happening here today and we welcome the presence of the PSNI to ensure that our laws are upheld here in Northern Ireland,” she said.

“Our laws matter because every life matters.”

After a tense hour-long encounter staged in an open area between the court buildings, the pro-choice activists boarded a bus.

They drove towards the Lisburn constituency office of the anti-abortion Democratic Unionists, who oppose liberalisation in Northern Ireland, to continue their day of protest.

Women every day in Northern Ireland are using these pills – as long as we don’t talk about it, as long as we act like it is a secret, politicians are not under pressure to legislate on this Eleanor Crossey Malone

Former DUP health minister Jim Wells watched from the other side of the road as the activists picketed the party offices.

Prime Minister Theresa May has come under pressure to legislate for abortion in Northern Ireland since the Stormont Assembly has been suspended for months.

Mr Wells said Mrs May would “endanger” her confidence and supply deal with the DUP at Westminster if she moved to change abortion laws in the region.

He said the issue was “crucial” to the survival of the deal.

“I believe Theresa May is not going to endanger the supply and confidence arrangement on this issue,” he said.

The earlier event at the courts in Belfast saw Ms Crossey Malone and two other activists gather in a circle while others dressed as handmaids, in reference to the Margaret Atwood novel The Handmaid’s Tale about women’s rights being stripped away, stood behind them.

The three women produced and took the tablets.

Ms Crossey Malone added: “Women every day in Northern Ireland are using these pills – as long as we don’t talk about it, as long as we act like it is a secret, politicians are not under pressure to legislate on this.

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Anti abortion campaign Bernie Smyth holds a counter protest (David Young/PA)

“We are bringing it into the spotlight in order to demand that politicians take action on this immediately and extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.”

She said the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was under enormous pressure and was aware of the international pressure inspired by the pro-choice movement south of the border.

“There is pressure on the state at every level to change the situation here, it has been described as a violation of human rights,” she said.

She added that they were “willing to flout the law because we do believe it violates human rights”.

Police officers recorded the events outside the courts.

After picketing at the DUP offices, the demonstrators staged a similar protest at Sinn Fein’s offices in Cookstown.

The day of protest ended with a rally in Londonderry.

The PSNI said officers seized two small robots along with a number of pills in Belfast, noting they were “surrendered voluntarily”.

Chief Inspector Stephen McCauley said: “Officers recorded footage of the demonstration, the details of a number of participants and have spoken with one of the event organisers.

“We will be reviewing the footage to determine whether any offences have been committed, but as we are now investigating this matter, we will not be commenting further.”

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